On Being Gracious with One Another
Five months ago, the birth of our fourth child went smoothly and without incident. This is why Audrey and I were shocked, when at a home visit, our midwife discovered that our baby girl’s heart rate was alarmingly slow. My mother had been planning to leave that morning, but she decided to stay with our other three kids. Minutes later we were on the way to the emergency room. Upon arriving, a nurse checked our daughter’s pulse, and seeing that it was still too low, the nurse’s body language became excited and concerned. She tapped our baby’s cheeks and shook her hands trying to wake her up and elicit a change in heartbeat. Only minutes after arriving at the hospital, were in a room where our baby was laying on a table and no fewer than five nurses and doctors bustled around the room gathering various equipment and gear. This began a process that would put us in the NICU for the next 48 hours—after which we brought home a perfectly healthy baby.
During that time my mom stayed longer than she had intended in order to help out with the other kids, and the other residents in our apartment building established a meal train and prayed for us. I would learn shortly after than my professors had also been praying for me and asked how my baby was doing—some of them still ask if she is still doing well. The people in our building offered to help us with anything we needed. Friends and family showed kindness and compassion toward us.
Whether they had it in mind at the time or not, they were living out Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (NASB). I think a fair synthesis of being “kind…tender-hearted…forgiving” is the idea that we should be gracious to one another.
To use the support Audrey and I received as an example, kindness was shown to us not as an attitude or disposition toward friendliness, but rather it was kind acts. Kindness is something we do. Naturally, inaction could potentially be the kindest thing, such as shutting up and listening as opposed to fixing the problems of someone who needs someone with whom to share feelings of mourning. But then, not even this is inaction, is it?
In this context, kindness is that which is loving, pleasant, agreeable, and good. A kind act, then, is one that, under normal circumstances, is appreciated. We know when someone is being kind or unkind, don’t we? I don’t mean to suggest it’s always so easy, but when it comes to building one another up, the person receiving our kindness should recognize it as such. The, “You’ll thank me later,” type of kindness is probably selfishness masquerading as concern for the other.
Is it possible to be kind—to do kind things—without the associated feelings? Maybe, but that next part in Ephesians 4:32, “be…tender-hearted” makes the orientation of our feelings toward others part of the deal. Ideally, Paul is saying we should also care on the inside. When I take personality tests, I always score the one low on the importance placed on feelings. That’s another way of saying *Batman voice,* I’m dead inside.
Contrary to my nature, my kind acts are supposed to flow out of my own compassion. Who displays this better than Jesus in Mark 1:40-41, “And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him. I am willing; be cleansed.” Jesus’ kind action was motivated and preceded by a pang of compassion. I (and probably most of us) need to pray for more pangs.
I believe that the first two part of this verse, kindness and tender-heartedness, are synthesized in the command to “forgive one another.” This might not be immediately obvious, but I agree with Harold Hoehner, who in his commentary translates this phrase, “Being gracious to one another.” The reason it can be translated this way is because the Greek word behind “forgive” can also mean “show grace.” The root of the word is charis, which someone might recognize as the Greek word for grace. I think Hoehner has it right because “be gracious” is broader and does not exclude forgiveness, but also incorporates the first two admonitions.
A perfect example of these concepts occurs a few chapters earlier. Ask, how is God gracious in Christ? Then read Ephesians 1:7-9,
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.”
Believers ought to be kind to one another and this kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. Not only doing kind things, however, believers are encouraged to be tender-hearted, feeling the feelings of compassion. And these two concepts are synthesized into the more comprehensive instruction to be gracious to one another.
 Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 941.
 I do not want to overstate this. It is important to keep in mind that a word never means everything that it can mean. Context narrows and determines what a specific meaning is and so while there may be a range of meanings, the word does not mean all of them simultaneously. Consider the English word lead—context will determine whether I am accusing Colonel Mustard of murder in the study or directing someone to be in charge of a project. It is also true, however, that a word may be used because the author intends to use more than one idea, as is the case here, I think.